Last week former Brazilian president Lula was dramatically released from prison. Sean Purdy, a member of the Socialism and Freedom Party in São Paulo, looks at the implications for politics in the country.
Brazil’s ex-president, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), founder and leader of the Workers’ Party (PT), was freed last Friday after 580 days in prison for trumped up charges of bribery and kickbacks. His release occurred the day after the Supreme Court ruled that according to the Constitution supposed offenders should not be imprisoned until after all appeals have been exhausted.
Lula triumphantly addressed 30,000 supporters at the metal workers’ union hall in the São Paulo suburbs the day after his release, criticising the judicial system and the Bolsonaro government’s right-wing attacks on social and labour rights.
Lula’s release represents a defeat for the supposed anti-corruption investigation known as Car Wash, led by the former judge and current Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro. It is also a clear setback for the right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro who based his presidential campaign in 2018 on the demonization of Lula and the left.
Text and audio messages, released by the site The Intercept Brasil, revealed the illegal collusion between Moro and prosecutors in their campaign to legitimate the 2016 parliamentary coup against PT president Dilma Rouseff and to remove Lula from the 2018 elections in order to damage the chances of his successor, Fernando Haddad, in the dispute against Bolsonaro.
It is not necessary to support the political project of Lula and the PT to recognise the importance of his liberation from prison. For 13 years, the PT governed in alliance with the traditional right-wing and while it succeeded in implementing moderate reforms, in many respects it paved the way for the conservative tide that arose after 2013. Lula and the PT constructed perilously dangerous relationships with capital and its right-wing political representatives, including many elements that backed Bolsonaro in 2018. Indeed, the cuts to social programs, labour and social rights, albeit less drastic, already began with the PT government of President Dilma in 2014.
Yet Lula’s freedom comes at a crucial moment in which the Bolsonaro government has suffered a number of setbacks in the last few months. His right-wing alliance in the Congress is split on a number of key issues and while he has succeeded in passing a drastic attack on pension rights, his support among the population hovers at around 30%. His government’s attempts to rout public education funding was defeated by a series of national mobilisations by high-school and university students in May and June. Ties with right-wing paramilitary death squads known as the “militias”—responsible for the execution of socialist councillor Marielle Franco and her driver—have hounded the Bolsonaro family throughout the year.
Yet the question remains what Lula’s release means for the upcoming fights. While Lula and the PT have talked tough in the days since he left prison, there is a real danger that the party will just prepare Lula’s candidacy for the next presidential elections. Indeed, there is a movement for all the parties of the left to build a united electoral front for the municipal elections in 2020 and the federal presidential elections in 2022.
The upcoming elections will be an important opportunity to advance a left project, but we cannot wait for the elections to confront the escalating authoritarianism of the Bolsonaro government and its attacks on the environment, labour and social rights, social programs and civil rights. We should follow the example of the workers and students of Chile and Ecuador who made significant gains against neoliberalism through massive mobilizations in the streets and workplaces.
The widespread euphoria produced by Lula’s freedom could be utilized by the social movements, workers’ movement and left parties to build rank and file campaigns in preparation for national mobilizations against the neoliberal and authoritarian agenda of the Bolsonaro government. Now is the moment to retake the streets and workplaces.